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‘In the Heights’ at Anaheim’s Chance, ‘Don’t Dress’ at Fullerton’s Stages

Few visitors to New York have ever been to Washington Heights, a predominantly Latino community north of Harlem. The hood comes to the people with “In the Heights,” the Tony Award-winning musical (now at the Chance Theater in Anaheim through Aug. 10) that seems as revolutionary as “Hair” was when it premiered.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music and lyrics (a blend of hip hop, rap, pop and salsa) poignantly tell the story of the immigrants’ hopes and dreams at the northern tip of Manhattan, though Quiara Alegria Hudes’ book is so thin it’s almost non-existent. There’s no shortage of energy and talent onstage, but too many songs are group-sung by the show’s 21-member company, often obscuring the lyrics; worse yet, the show is so poorly engineered some of the principals sound like they’re shrieking through their mics half the time.

Julia Cassandra Smith, whose pipes match her good looks, anchors the show as Nina, the collegiate daughter of a Puerto Rican family; few things are a pleasant as a fresh new face, especially when they’re as promising as this one. Other standouts in the solid cast are Chelsea Balderee (as the much sought-after Vanessa), Tony Sanchez (Nina’s father Kevin) and Candida Orosco (Abuela Claudia, grandma to the hood). Oanh Nguyen’s direction is smooth and unobtrusive; Kelly Todd’s stellar choreography never misses a step. Call 714-777-3033 or visit www.ChanceTheater.com.
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Marc Camoletti’s “Don’t Dress for Dinner” (at STAGEStheatre in Fullerton through Aug. 3) is frenetic from the get-go, even where French farces are concerned. Set in a country house outside Paris, it succeeds where the veddy British “Bedroom Farce” largely failed last year at the same venue, though the premise isn’t all that different.

The ever-reliable Brian Fichtner heads the more than capable cast as Bernard, a guy has one too many balls in the air, and one too many birds in the oven. Unbeknownst to him, he can trust neither his slippery wife Jacqueline (Christine Cummings), his wide-eyed best friend Robert (Phil Nieto), nor even his comely mistress Suzanne (Brittany McClintick). The ditzy cook he’s hired for a dinner party (Kathleen Switzer) and her jealous hubby (Michael J. Keeney) only further complicate matters.

The proceedings lend themselves to being played over the top, and director Amanda DeMaio keeps things moving at the speed of light. Even the program can’t keep up with the frantic pace, mirroring the characters’ confusion by misidentifying some of the actors. You might as well just sit back and enjoy it; it could be played with a touch more subtlety for my taste, but audience response indicates that’s a minority opinion. Call 714-525-4484 or visit www.stagesoc.org.

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